A while ago we pointed out what the Lord was speaking to us about from Matthew 24. At the risk of sounding like repetition, I would like to revisit that passage. In the first two verses we are told:
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
So, first in Matthew 24 they expose their false sense of security and the fact that they were impressed with the structure and the familiar. I think that what they were saying was: “Don’t forget that our heritage as a nation is tied up in these buildings. Don’t mess with them!” You can sympathise somewhat – he’d already stood on the Temple steps and told them that if they tore down the Temple he would rebuild it in three days! It’s just that he was talking about his body then, not the buildings.
What will stand?
His response shows that he was aware of the real condition of what they believed in – and that his intention was for it to be brought to the ground. He alone will stand; their history, theology, traditions (their security) will not. Jesus was really saying: “don’t try to prop up what’s coming down.”
The question is: what were the stones? It’s easy to assume that he’s talking about ‘tradition’, but maybe he’s not so much talking about just the traditions themselves, but rather the manmade things that had their roots in God, but could become obstacles to what he is presently doing, or they could become a false security instead of him.
As we look on into the next few verses we read:
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately.”
Now, we need to expect the next response if they were listening; otherwise just pride or fear could follow now that they see that he was showing them how wrong they were.
“‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”
So now the answer comes – and Jesus gets the opportunity to speak directly into the situation they are facing:
“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.’”
Three times Jesus speaks about deception in the following passage: even implying that false Christs will be found in the church itself – even horrific endorsements of the antichrist in the church itself (the ‘Abomination that brings desolation’ in the holy place).
Against the Religious Rulers
Now, in the previous chapter, Jesus was speaking out against the religious rulers of his day. His tone was angry; he was both confrontational and critical. He even used biting sarcasm several times to emphasise his point and illustrate how far these people had departed from God’s righteousness and truth. But his heart was pure; his love and compassion for them was evident. We’re not Jesus, and we can’t necessarily say our hearts are pure, even though we’d like them to be. But, I can identify with Jesus in this one thing: when I see the religious deception perpetrated on people, my heart is grieved. So, to me, this subject of spiritual deception is intriguing.
If you look at Jeremiah 5 you can see that this passage doesn’t necessarily just describe the condition of Israel in Jeremiah’s day, it could also describe the condition of many churches today. This is what it says:
“And should I not punish them for this rebellion? Declares the Lord. Should I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this? A horrible and amazing thing has happened in the land: the prophets are liars, telling the people only what they want to hear; the leaders deceive my people, using a false authority that I have not given them; and worst of all, the people want it this way. But what will they do when the end comes, and they are still bound up in all this deception?” (Jeremiah 5:29-31)
I was shocked when I read, “and, worst of all, the people want it this way!” because here lies my greatest fear: that most people in the Church are happy with the way things are and will not be interested in anything that opposes the truth as they see it. In the face of the church having taken on board a great deal of ‘worldly wisdom’, it would be important to read what Paul said about it:
“Remember what Isaiah said, God will turn conventional wisdom upside down. The time will come when the so-called religion experts will be the ones who look foolish. So where does that leave the one who thinks he’s wise, or the well educated, or the one who understands the ways of the world? Isn’t God going to expose all this pretentious nonsense? The world never had a clue when it came to knowing and understanding God. That’s why He uses the things that the world thinks are foolish or just plain wrong, even unpleasant, to guide those who trust in Him on their way to salvation.” (I Corinthians 1:19-21)
I believe with all my heart that God’s desire is to re-establish his true Church – the real Church. I’m talking about the Church as he intended it to be, the one that makes it possible for those who really believe in him to see His purpose fulfilled in their lives. And what is God’s purpose? To see all those who believe in Him conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in the Church, the Father wants to strip away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.
The first real church was Jesus and his 12 disciples. The first church was actually a training school for those who would establish the second-generation churches after Jesus ascended back to the Father. It was Jesus showing His disciples, first hand, how to have church. They met in houses and gardens, by the sea and on boats in the sea, in the middle of the road, on hillsides and on mountaintops. They met wherever Jesus happened to be. These meetings formed their understanding of what church was supposed to be and established a pattern for the next generation of churches.
If you look at your Bible and read Matthew 5:1 to 8:1. What you read is an account of one of the very first church meetings. The actual church was small, but there was a “multitude” of visitors that day and the sermon was really long.
Then read Matthew 8:2-4. That was the next church meeting, but this time there was only one visitor.
If you then read Matthew 8:5-13. Here’s something unusual. The sermon was only about 20 seconds long, and it was both confrontational and judgmental. I’m sure some of the visitors were offended this time, and I don’t think they’ll be coming back.
Then Jesus had another meeting at Peter’s house (Matthew 8:14-17); another the next day by the Sea of Galilee (8:18-22); then, later, in a boat (8:23-27); and still another the following day on the other side of Galilee with the disciples, two other guys, a bunch of demons, a herd of pigs and some more visitors from town (8:28-34).
Are you getting the picture? From Matthew 5:1 to 8:34, Jesus had at least 7 church meetings. Actually, He probably had many more than that. You can see the one, overwhelming principle illustrated in this first church. It’s really simple, but at the same time, really profound. What does the first church show us? What should every church learn from its example? What were the 12 disciples doing? THEY WERE LIVING WITH JESUS!!! The function of the church, any church, is to enable believers in their walk with Jesus. It must promote the reality of living moment-by-moment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, week after week, year after year with Jesus.
What is Church?
The simple fact of the matter is that church is supposed to be the support system for believers in their continuous, uninterrupted relationship with Jesus. It should support them in their constant, openly transparent, submissive, obedient, life changing, transforming, renewing, Holy Spirit-led, love relationship with the Savior; and if you’re ever going to be conformed to the image of Christ, that is the lifestyle that is required. How can you be changed into something you haven’t experienced and submitted yourself to? If you just read the red bits in the Gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus never describes salvation as something that is quick and easy. Instead, he presents it as something that is difficult, something that demands persistence and something that only a few will achieve (Jesus said there would only be a few that would be willing to travel the narrow road that leads to life).
There is a New Testament model for Church. If Jesus and his 12 disciples were the first generation church, then those established by the disciples after Jesus’ ascension were the second generation churches. Remember the principle illustrated by the first church was living with Jesus. He was there, physically with them, every day, every night, day after day, week after week, for almost 4 years. Then he was gone! Now these people, and others, began establishing churches all over the known world (in Asia Minor, Europe and Africa). And the principle of these second generation churches comes through loud and clear. Here it is: LIVING WITH JESUS IN A COMMUNITY OF OTHER BELIEVERS WHO ARE LIVING WITH HIM TOO!!!